Saturday, May 13, 2006


I sorted thru clothes this morning, discarding half. The remainder won't fit in the rack box with the lap top, etc and reference books. Books are irreplaceable while I can buy more clothes (bought three heavy cotton quality sports shirts for $9 each). Left one full suitcase at the hotel, left an almost empty suitcase at Honda. Set off to ride. Great. Got 300 yards and ran
out of gas! 46 degrees centegrade! Pushing the bike back would have killed me. Walking was bad enough. I parked the bike at a store. Mechanic appologised and rode me back on a scooter with a can of gas. We said our goodbyes agin. Off he went. The bike wouldn't start. Kick, kick, kick...
Suicide. Know that I can´t cope. Store keeper (a woman, naturally) suggests I try turning the ignition key. Dumb toad...
I am on the rong side of a VERY busy six lane highway. I don´t have the courage to pull into the outside lane to make the turn. I ride a while (crawl) behind busses that halt on every block. Then take a right and do a U on a road that has traffic lights on the highway crossing. Is this clear?
A six lane highway is not the best learning terain.
I stall a couple of times, manic cabs and busses hoot, I miss a red light (they are on the outside lane and overhead, not alongside the sidewalk). Bikers hurtlepast in search of death (memories of the BMW Boys). I crawl. I make third gear. I make fourth. For a short stretch (five yards), I make fifth. I've been riding bikes for years. I've ridden bikes in seriously weird places. So I was younger. What's changed? Modern bikes are easier to ride. The brakes work. They use their cubic capacity more effectively.
I pulled alongside a cab to ask directions. I rode into the city centre. I rode round the city and all over the city in search of a solution to my baggage. I even had to warn myself not to get over confident! Having looked at plastic paniers and leather paniers and leather bags coated with studs (a la Harley), I now have a solution which I will work on Monday.
Pleased with myself, I parked the bike in the hotel garage and went for a very late lunch down the road at a stall upstairs at the fish market. Huge glass of fresh orange juice and once again, devilled prawns (best yet and cheapest yet). I am overweight. I have cut down to fruit breakfast and evening with one meal sometime in between. But what fruit...!


Lay in bed this morning thinking that I am crazy to attempt this trip and that I should be safe home weeding a flower bed and preparing for the hereafter. Or cooking a lasagne for Bernadette, Josh and Jed. I miss them and I wish that I had stayed longer with Anya.
Why does it have to be the thirteenth?
Last night I watched a performance of Mexican/Hispanic dancing in the square. Dancers dressed in white, high heel Spanish boots and the familiar stamping - great, all under a near full moon softened by the humidity, Cathedral in the background, stage protected by trees at the rear and sides. almonds, palms. One great dance, the women carrying glasses of oil with lighted wicks on their heads. That finished and I stroll to the small plaza near the hotel and watch the old folks dance to a five piece band (two guitarists, percussionist on a pair of small drums, singer with a serated gourd that he struck and stroked). Mostly middle-aged couples who had been joyfully dancing with each other for thirty years or more. Good dancers, great rythm. One show-off dancer in his forties with a blond companion in her late twenties always took centre stage and called to the band - know the type? He wore a wedding ring. She didn´t. They were having fun on the dance floor, arguing off it. His mobile rang and he disappeared round a corner to answer (so who ever ever was calling wouldn´t hear the music?).
Plastic tables and chairs belong to the two cafes each side of the plaza. A row of wrought iron benches on the sidewalk are city property. A young courting couple, neatly dressd, were sharing a bottle of water on one of the benches. They danced on the sidewalk, shy with each other but gaining confidence. I noticed the girl´s high heels, new or nearly new. And that, seated again, she sureptitiously scratched her ankle. That is the staple of the tropics: there is always one mosquito...

Friday, May 12, 2006


The Toad is beat and feels the weight of all his 73 years. Went to bed late after a long conversation with 78 year old pensioner at a cafe in a small square round the corner from the hotel where there is live music and a chess club - weird combination but seems to work. The chess players were elderly, maybe they were deaf. Then up at 6 a.m. and was first in the queue at 6.45 - gave that privilege to a woman who arrived a minute later so I would have someone to lead the way. Doors opened at 8. First disaster: impossible to register a bike unless you have an address to register it at. Senior official told me to go find an address, any address. Back to Honda where the head of the motorbike division told me to use his address! An hour later I had my plates! Back to Honda and road gently round their parking lot. Bike is fine. As to the Toad...I road a scooter ten years ago and am seriously out of practice. I will take the bike out properly tomorrow, Saturday, when (hopefully) there won't be so much traffic. Intend riding up the coast to Antigua to see Cortes' first house and sit on the beach. I am less worried now that the bike is registered and, this evening, have been both walking the city and seeing it for the first time (you can walk without really seeing anything).


I have read fearful accounts of foreigners's encounters with Mexican officialdom. Those officials with whom I have dealt have gone out of their way to be helpful.
So what have I seen now that my eyes are open. A toy castle, 1660. What every kid wants: a ramp leading to a drawbridge. Gate into fierce walls mellowed by age. A square keep with a pepperpot on top. Parapets with canon in every aperture and a second pepper pot on one corner. Perfect size for a TV make-over program. Immagine the dialogue betweent the two presenter/designers!
The central square Plaza de Armas) is good rather than great - cathedral along one side has a good interior lit by chandeliers and is small enough to feel intimate rather than overbearing. There's a good cloister dwn one side, a plush hotel opposite, a line of cafes across from the cathedral, palm trees round the sides, clump of leaved trees (must check what) in the middle round a bandstand with live music in the evening.
I threaded my way thru the market today on my way to somewhere else, crowded and very friendly. Cab driver told me: "In Veracruz you can walk anywhere at half past one in the morning. Mexico City you'd be murdered."
The city is tidy for a Mexican city. Lots of trees, masses of small shops (how do they make a living?), masses of small restaurants and ice cream parlors and ten-table cafes. Street vendors don't bug you, are happy to give directions and like to chat.
I read in a guide book that Veracruz has a strong black influence. I haven´t seen a single black person. The standard skin colour is a rich pale golden moca - imagine a good sun tan without the red. And very goodlooking, especially the younger generation. Long trousers on the men is obligatory. Girls show their tummys. Given the heat, this seems an unfair advantage. Though I wouldn't want to show mine.
OK - I am off to sit in the Plaza de Armas, drink a cold beer, listen to music and watch the folk dance.
And I shall probably worry much of the night as to how I will handle the Honda and the traffic...

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Thursday, May 11
Most people I meet consider this entire trip an act of lunacy. Taking three consecutive long-distance busses direct from Dallas to Vercruz might be judged a little demented. I wanted to get here. I am here. I spent three hours with the main Honda agency yesterday. I was in bed by 7 p.m. and slept 12 hours! Today I feel great.
The bus trip.
Dallas to Monterey 10 p.m. - 9.30 a.m. $46. Don and his friend made jokes as to Mexican busses falling over cliffs. There are no cliffs. The road runs straight and flat. I sit directly behind the driver and watch while he eats a TUB of caramel icecream. The US is tough to get into. Getting out is easy. We wiz thru customs and immigration. I have a moment in which to note a queue several hundred metres long of Mexicans aspiring to enter the US. Then we are at the Mexican border. I still have my US entry card. The US frontier is way back and the bus driver tells me that I paid to leave the US and that I have left the US, what more do I want? The Mexican immigration officer tells me not to worry. He asks how long I will be in Mexico. I explain my trip and make a guess at four weeks. He examines me with interest, age, fat, etc., grins and gives me a visa for six months and says, 'Just in case...' As to my US status, he suggests I drop by a US consulate somewhere on my travels.
Monterey I am taken by my driver to the bus company that does the run to Tampico. A bus leaves at 10 a.m. $36. This bus is more comfortable than the first. The seats tip all the way back. The seat belts are easy to wear. The first movie is good: Japanese? fabulous ballet of men swinging thru tall bamboos in chasing a woman. Jed will know the title.
I doze on the road to Tampico and wake down towards the coast. I spot my first palm tree of the trip, sisal fields, jacarandas in flower, a flame tree.
We pull into the Tampico bus depot at 4 p.m. Busses leave for Veracruz every hour ($34). I find a restaurant and eat a steak ranchero (piece of grilled beef skirt served in a tomato and onion sauce with a basket of fresh corn tortillas - dishes of red and green chillie sauce, red is most piquante) $4.
I call the Ampara hotel in Vercruz and book a room. The hotel is open at 6 a.m. I will have half an hour to wait at the Veracruz bus depot. $115 for 1214 kilometres.
This bus is the most comfortable yet. Again I sit directly behind the driver and can watch the speedo. We crawl through hill country on a double lane road packed with trucks. This is oil country I see gas burning off beside collecter tanks. Most people in the UK suppose that the US imports most of its oil from the Middle East. Mexico is the US's largest source. What happens to all that oil money? That's the question asked by Mexicans...
Back to the busses.
Bus travel in Mexico has the comfort and conveniance that we used to associate with air travel. Each city has a main terminal used by all cross-country bus companies. The terminals are spotless and staff are smart and imensely helpful. Buy your ticket and chose your seat off the bus plan. Porters load your luggage and issue luggage receipts. The drivers are excellent (this from a notoriously nervous back-seat driver). Busses leave on time and arrive on time and are met by porters. Best of all, you go to the Taxi kiosk, give your destination, pay and receive a ticket that you present to the taxi driver at the head of the queue - no fear of being ripped off in a new city. I write here of the long distance express services. These I recomend to any tourist of any age. Chicken busses are altogether different...
So here I am in Veracruz- HOT.
The Amparo is a block from the pretty central square and the Cathedral. I have a room with shower and toilet and a fan. $14 a night. The hotel is clean. My room is quiet, I have two windows. And I am now the proud owner of a white 125cc Honda as shown on my web site ( Click the Journey link. I have a removable waterproof box on the back which will take my computer, etc. And the Honda agent, Moto Diez, presented me with a smart helmet. The bike is being specially prepared by a serious grey-haired mechanic who assure me that it will carry me to Tierra del Fuego sin problemas. Tomorrow I queue for the plates. I am told this may take all day. Today I celebrated with a dish of devilled prawns and a bottle of Mexican lager at a restaurant out in the agent´s barrio (colonia in Mexican) . $7 and delicious!
Vercruz is famous for the friendliness of it people. True...and I have maps, courtesy of Moto Diez. The route I intend taking follows in the steps of Cortes. Much of it is on very minor road. Even these appear to leave gaps of twenty or more kilometres. Perhaps there is a dirt track...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


MAY 9th
Goodbye to Dallas and to the United States. I leave with great memories: the joy of being with Anya and the beauty of the farm and the horses; Michael´s company; the fun of the Hummer/bike trip; watching Don at work; enjoying the link with home that Jane represents, the pleasure in talking with Elspeth, 11 year old sage. I leave with memories of the generosity, courtesy and kindness of Texans and their friedliness and their openess. I also leave behind me a country that is bewilderingly foreign. We speak the same language but are fundamentally different. Size accounts for part of the difference. England is tiny. We citizens treasure and use each inch that we own or lease. We fence it, we hedge it; we wall ourselves in and wall our neighbours out.
The United States is vast and Americans treat their land casually. Pass thru small towns and see no visible division between one house yard and the next. A flower bed is a rarity in the US while almost obligatory in England. In small town America, a business fails and the building is left to dacay--there´s lots of room, build somewhere else.
Americans who do take an interest in the land have interests so different to ours and on so vastly different a scale. Don and Paul with their newly purchased hobby ranch are only beginners. My last evening, we shared a beer with a friend of Don´s. This friend has a business leasing mobile road barriers, traffic cones and signs to contractors. He and his father share a 7,000 acre hobby ranch in Oklahoma. Like Don, they are obsessive hunters and commited conservationsists. The ranch is ring fenced with deer fencing and they've sunk a million dollars in damming a creek to form an eighty acre lake. British, they might have a holiday apartment on the Costa Bravo. This isn´t a difference in spending power: it is a difference in immagination.
You must understand the breadth of this imagination to understand the size and wealth of America ( real wealth rather than the paper wealth of Wall Street) . Watch the construction of a freeway. Don and I passed a new stretch on the outskirts of Dallas. Thirty or more enormous trucks and traillers were queueing to unload enormous concrete girders. I doubt that there are that many trucks that size in the UK. Three cranes were swinging the girders into place. A mobile concrete mixer that would be thought a factory in the UK had been errcted in the middle of the new road. One column of trucks fed it while it fed a second stream of trucks. Time is money. There's need for a road, get it built. It is this attitude that has made the US the power it is.
So much for the good.
There is also the disturbing.
The US is increasingly what I can only describe a colonial culture.
On Michael's farm, mangement is 'white'. All labour is Mexican.
The same is true of Don and Jane´s construction business.
The diference between a true colonial culture and the American model is in the pay scale. In these two cases, both the farm and construction labour are well paid. The similarity is in the dependence for labour on those whom the owners and managers perceive as being different.